The MRC's Ratings Game
The Media Research Center and its "news" division CNSNews.com pushed the dubious spin that Trump impeachment proceedings were illegitimate because they didn't get as high of TV ratings as, say, the O.J. Simpson trial.
By Terry Krepel
The Media Research Center manufactured a new way of downplaying the November impeachment hearings against President Trump: highlight their allegedly low ratings.
In a Nov. 14 post, Kristine Marsh touted how an appearance by Donald Trump on ABC's "The View" got better ratings than ABC's coverage of the impeachment hearings:
If ratings are any indicator of Americans’ interest in impeachment, Democrats are in big trouble. Viewership for yesterday’s impeachment hearings are out, and reveal that between the three major broadcast networks, ABC led ratings, with just 2 million total viewers (Fox News Channel was the most viewed network, with 2.9 million watching.)
Marsh then sneered: "To get some perspective, the ratings ABC got Wednesday, were lower than the lowest rated daytime soap opera on television, Days of Our Lives, averaged on NBC. Those numbers were so concerning for the network they fired the entire cast and put the show on an indefinite hiatus this past week." Actually, the article to which Marsh linked stated that production of the show is so far ahead of schedule that the normal holiday hiatus came earlier this year; the soap hasn't been canceled and episodes are still airing.
Rich Noyes then picked up the talking point, huffing on Nov. 18 that the impeachment hearings must suck because (we're not making this up) O.J. Simpson's trial got much higher ratings (typographical enhancement in original):
Americans aren’t exactly obsessed with the Democrats’ impeachment hearings, it seems. Friday’s second day of live, wall-to-wall coverage drew an average of 12.7 million viewers on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC and the Fox News Channel combined.
Noyes isn't going to tell you that the hearings still got more viewers than pretty much every prime-time network TV show that wasn't a football game.
Noyes followed two days later with another ratings update:
The TV ratings took another dive on Tuesday morning for Day 3 of the Democrats’ impeachment hearings, with only 11.4 million tuning in to ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC and the Fox News Channel for the testimony of Lt. Col. Alex Vindman and an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, Jennifer Williams.
Noyes didn't mention that many of those adults have jobs they must be at during the day that prevent them from watching daytime hearings. It's also likely millions more Americans watched the hearings online, which wouldn't have been measured in the TV ratings Noyes and Marsh focused on.
The following day, Noyes offered even more of the same, under the headline "Day 4: Nearly All Americans Continue to Skip Dem Hearings."
Tim Graham and Brent Bozell piled on as well with, yes, another ancient O.J. ratings comparison:
Rep. Adam Schiff's Democratic impeachment hearings are under way airing live all over the dial and the liberals are quite upset that America couldn't care less.
When CNN's Brian Stelter dared to make the point that in the internet age, young people watch online while old people watch TV, Graham and Bozell decided to mock instead of offering a cogent response:
All this left CNN's Brian Stelter sputtering that the dismal ratings are a "woefully incomplete" picture of the viewership. The vast majority of those who watched the impeachment hearings on television were over the age of 55. But Stelter tried to argue that younger viewers "were more likely to stream it and/or soak up the info like sponges." Or maybe the millennials were too busy playing "Pokemon" or texting in the middle of busy streets while motorists debated the ethics of running them over.
The two concluded by writing that "the liberals were actually interested in democracy, they would let the elected president finish his term, and try to defeat him at the polls, instead of trying to ruin him before there's any chance for reelection." Funny, we don't remember the folks at the MRC being concerned about whether President Clinton would finish his term as they agitated from his impeachment.
None of these MRC writers explained why these purportedly low ratings for the impeachment hearings means, as they are suggesting, that the evidence being presented is somehow illegitimate. Would they support Trump's impeachment if the ratings were higher? Unlikely.
The MRC liked that dubious narrative so well that it glommed onto it again during the Senate impeachment trial. Rich Noyes wrote in a Jan. 24 post:
The ratings are in for the first day of the Democratic House Managers impeachment arguments in front of the Senate, and the broadcast networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) collectively lost about three million viewers who would have been expected to watch their normal fare of daytime soap operas.
Noyes added that "some loyal soap opera fans are venting their anger at the decision to run the same event that’s available on all of the cable news networks," adding anonymous potshots from a comment thread. (Wait, doesn't the MRC hate anonymous sources?)
A Jan. 30 post by Randy Hall crowed that Fox News is the "most-watched cable news network," adding, "January, of course, was the impeachment trial. Apparently, Americans just don't to watch the liberal CNN's spin on the Senate trial." The next day, Hall fully embraced the narrative:
Common complaints during the first seven days of the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump were that the broadcasts went on far too long, and the hearings were boring in part because the coverage usually ran from 1 p.m. through primetime and sometimes into the early morning hours.
The MRC even extended the narrative to social media, with a Jan. 26 post by Tim Graham chortling about how the trial had lower engagement than the hearings: "Isn't it obvious that viewers might see the trial as a repeat? The House managers literally played a pile of clips from the House hearings. And who builds TV ratings when everyone knows this show will be canceled -- by an acquittal?"
None of these MRC writers explained the link between popularity and justice they imply exists.
CNS joins the spin
Given that the MRC's "news" division, CNSNews.com, is not "news" at all but, rather, the MRC's biased activism in an inverted-pyramid format, it's not surprise that CNS would echo its parent organization's narrative. And that's exactly what Susan Jones did in a Nov. 19 article:
Four witnesses will testify in the House intelligence committee's impeachment inquiry today, beginning with Alexander Vindman (member of the National Security Council since 2018) and Jennifer Williams (Vice President Pence's advisor) at 9 a.m.; and Kurt Volker (special envoy to Ukraine) and Tim Morrison (National Security Council official) at 2:30 p.m.
But Jones never told her readers that Vindman rebutted this claim by reading from a performance evaluation of him by Hill that called him "a top 1% military officer and the best Army officer I have worked with in my 15 years of government service." Or that Hill herself later testified that she never had any issues with Vindman's judgment but, rather, was concerned about how a military man like him would handle the increasingly political direction the Ukraine issue was turning.
CNS editor in chief Terry Jeffrey took this narrative to a ridiculous extent, ending up with possibly the dumbest take on this claim.
"High School Basketball Game Outdraws Senate Impeachment Trial" was the headline on Jeffrey's Jan. 31 "news" article -- this was labeled as Washington "news" and not opinion -- and, yes, that's the take he's going with:
The varsity basketball game between the Gonzaga Eagles and the Good Counsel Falcons that was played in the Gonzaga gymabout a one-mile walk from the U.S. Capitol--drew a larger crowd on Thursday evening than the Senate impeachment trial did.
Jeffrey was silent about the utterly obvious that that the impeachment trial was broadcast live on TV across the country, meaning that one did not need to travel to Washington and go through however many levels of security to sit in the Senate chamber and watch the trial in person. And he's certainly not going to mention the fact that the first day of the trial drew 11 million viewers, more than has ever watched a single high school basketball game. Viewership may have declined an the trial went on, but the audience was still in the millions and still towered over the basketball crowd.
By contrast, the basketball game in question was not broadcast on national TV and was almost assuredly not broadcast on TV even in the Washington, D.C., area where these schools (as well as Jeffrey) were located, meaning the gym was the only place one could have seen that game. Further, the security level for spectators was likely much less onerous than at the gym.
Jeffrey deliberately ignored the interest of millions of viewers of the impeachment trial across the U.S. to cling to this incredibly stupid talking point in an attempt to discredit impeachment. Perhaps he should instead focus on making his website's news coverage less biased.